Saturday, September 29, 2012

high school newspaper

When I graduated grammar school I didn’t take the test to go to Bronx Science, which would have been a shoe in. Instead I made the mistake of going where people I knew were going. When I got there I found out that Cardinal Spellman catholic school was uptight, airless, controlling disrespectful and condescending. The nuns were verbally abusive, which indicated to me a basic error in its philosophy of learning. Some people liked the place, and I mean you no disrespect here, but I was simply allergic to it’s closed minded suffocating practices. I could almost get the hives thinking about it.

In sophomore year of high school I was kicked out. I was a bright smart student who loved learning, but I dyed my spiky hair and wore black eyeliner in a London ‘77 style, fishnet stockings and black patent stilettos and a leather motorcycle jacket with my hideous blue polyester uniform. The school had a large population of students from organized crime families. Many of the girls were quite beautiful and many dyed their hair and wore tons of make-up and 6 inch Fordham Road pumps to school. We were all doing the same thing, we just had different taste. The problem was that it was ok for them to look that way, but the school had an issue with my choices. That was enough to get me kicked out. I wasn’t actually asked to leave, I was asked to look like everyone else. I left- joyously running through the halls in street clothes on my last day.

Junior year I reported to The McBurney school on Central Park West and 63rd Street. This place was really loose, they took kids from half way houses and took me in my third year with a little scholarship because I had a great grade point average. I helped them they helped me. My new school was light years ahead of where I cam from.
The school had a slew of wealthy kids who were pretty privileged, and probably thought it a drag there, but I was in my element. There were a handful of bright cool students and the faculty was awesome, for the most part. I loved not having strict rules and no uniform. We were supposed to wear a collared shirt, but I would wear thrift store shirts that I cut the cuffs off of, like Patti Smith on the cover of Horses, so it never even felt like a dress requirement. I could pair a collared shirt with combat boots, a plaid skirt, and long underwear, or with tights with colored fishnet stockings pulled up over them haphazardly, a black pencil skirt with lace slip over it and high top sneakers. It was the time in NYC when a lot of people were hanging out at Dancateria and dressing like Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan. Goth was starting- black hair or white hair, pointy boots white skin and black makeup. The wealthy popular girls in my school wore Guess jeans, skinny to the ankle, with zipper so you could get your foot through the tiny hole (pre-stretch jeans, my friends) and had big-ish hair ala flashdance, curls all tossed to one side. I didn’t talk much to them. I was still rocking a completely different style, but all was good.

The school had a concerned staff that wanted me to get a scholarship to college so they made me the editor of the newspaper so I would have some extra curriculum leadership things to put on my application. I went along with them, not knowing what a gift they were giving me. As it turned out, I did indeed get an NYU scholarship but at the time I just figured I would be newspaper editor, what the hell

Here is the point of this story:

As editor, I changed the format of the paper from the way newspaper stories are usually written, into stories that used the word “I”. “I think” I feel”. I thought that news style writing was ridiculous, making yourself invisible was a lie. All that was written, what people read, was just people opinions, why try to act like it wasn’t? Plus, after all, it wasn’t world news, it was high school stuff.

The school let me do two issues this way and then replaced me saying that our experiment failed. The teacher who supervised us was awesome, but he wanted our newspaper to be a newspaper. It all worked out. I got the scholarship and the paper went back to normal. The end.

Except that the teacher who headed the newspaper was really disappointed in my choices. He cared about news and the formality of the institution of newspapers. At the time, I felt bad about my choices too, like I had been foolish, But looking back I can see that I was so ahead of my times. I was indeed a visionary on the forefront of the new wave of journalism. Or at least I was onto the truth about it. The world had changed since then and many people agree that news stories do indeed reflect someone’s opinion be it Fox or whomever.

But I too have changed and I really do appreciate the attempt to be neutral in reporting. I love the newscasters who share those values. Warren Olny of PRI comes to mind, as a hero of staying neutral and giving all sides a voice. We need more people like Warren. Thank you to the heroes that try to keep that kooky business clean. And thank you all you good folk at McBurney high, who were great staff and teachers and had the students best interest in mind. Education is a process.

Too bad that my sweet high school is now just another NYC co-op apartment building. Ah, the perils of growing up in New York….


Do Your Best
Care about your world, your neighbors, your community, kids
Opt for the best possible outcome for all parties involved
Think win win
Stay open minded and fair
Listen to the other side
Practice empathy.

I write this because I am not good at any of these things, but I am consciously trying to be better.



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